Saturday, October 6, 2012

Lessons in Sovereign Territorial Integrity

What goes up...
The press is crowing this morning about how the brilliantly capable Israeli Air Force shot down a drone that violated their airspace.  This is interesting to me because it's one of those cases where they're once again reporting the wrong news.  They see the event - those evil brown Palestinians or Iranians tried to harm the plucky Israelis again, but the vaunted Israeli military defeated them once again - without any consideration of the consequences.

The US military is becoming more and more dependent upon unmanned aircraft for operations all over the world.  The drones were created primarily for surveillance, and they are spectacularly good at it, with loiter times that can sometimes be measured in DAYS and all sorts of broad spectrum imaging gear along with real-time satellite communications.  But increasingly, these robotic aircraft are being modified, and even purpose designed and built from the ground up as strike aircraft, precision ground attack platforms without the vulnerable human component.

But here's the dirty little secret - drones are not in any way the equal of an F-15 or an F-22.  They fly slow, they have no capacity for self defense, they are not stealthy and they can't even maneuver particularly effectively.  This hasn't been a matter of critical importance, because whenever the US has used them in what might be contested airspace, they have done so with at least the tacit permission, or even encouragement, of the government and military leadership there.  The Pakistanis like to scream about the US drone attacks, but this is entirely for domestic consumption.  As Wikileaks showed conclusively (as if there was any practical doubt), the Pakistan military is utterly complicit in the drone operations, even at times asking for more unmanned aerial resources than the US could supply.

So today the world got a lesson it hadn't been willing to think about before: Drones are ridiculously vulnerable.  At their current state of development, they simply cannot be used in any nation that genuinely doesn't want them there.  They are vulnerable to ground fire, which they lack the ability to suppress, and they are sitting ducks for ANYTHING that flies.  Even an attack helicopter is plenty fast enough to catch them and destroy them.  As the use of drones becomes more common, it's going to become well known that if US drones are striking targets in a particular nation-state, it is a certainty that they are doing so with the approval, perhaps even at the request, of the government of that nation.  And the people of that nation will not be able to ignore the fact that their own leadership is asking the United States military to attack them.  And that is, increasingly, not going to sit well with them.

In a related note, the immensely popular ex-Cricket superstar Imran Khan is leading a so-called "Convoy" from Islamabad into South Waziristan.  One of the key complaints of the protesters and Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf party is the drone strikes.  Khan is considered a relatively secular Muslim, and this is an interesting attempt to garner support from the fundamentalist Waziristan population.  Hopefully they will recognize the clear implication from the events in Israel that the drones would not be attacking the people in South Waziristan without explicit approval from President Zardari and General Kayani.


  1. What lessons we should be learning, though?

    I won't be voting for President Drone Strike.

    I realize many do not agree.

  2. Mostly, they don't agree because they are even more afraid of President War-with-China. But you do what y'gotta...

  3. There was that Iraqi drone the US was to have feared...that was sold as dangerous though.

  4. I won't be voting for President Drone Strike.

    You're gonna have to be more specific.

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